Israeli Defense Contractor Rafael Announces New Facial Recognition Firm

Rafael and Anyvision shareholders will set up a security company dealing with machine vision; past investigation revealed tech firm monitors West Bank crossings for the IDF

Amitai Ziv
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Anyvision
AnyvisionCredit: Anyvision/YouTube
Amitai Ziv

Israeli state-owned defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the shareholders of Anyvision, a high-tech startup focused on facial recognition, are setting up a jointly-owned security company. The company will focus on developing machine vision and artificial intelligence for defense purposes. 

Anyvision is Israel’s most high-profile biometric recognition firm, particularly in facial recognition. The company notes that its software can be hooked up to cameras of all kinds and be installed and used immediately, requiring little computing capacity.

Anyvision has two divisions involved in facial recognition technologies. One division develops surveillance for civil use in airports, border posts and casinos, and the second is for top-secret security applications.

>> Revealed: This Israeli face-recognition startup is secretly tracking Palestinians

Anyvision decided to separate the two divisions’ activities because of the differences between their respective markets and prospective clients. Therefore it decided to now set up a new security company with Rafael, in joint and equal (50 percent each) holding.

Anyvision was founded in 2015 and on Friday, after news of the spin off with Rafeal broke, the firm announced it had raised an additional $43 million to the $74 million it has raised in capital so far. 

Anyvision will contribute to the partnership its current security contracts as well as knowhow and patents - but not employees. Meanwhile, Rafael will invest tens of millions of dollars in the joint company and will help enlist its new staff.

The deal is in the stages of regulatory approval, after which Anyvision will refocus on its civilian activities. Since the coronavirus outbreak, the company has begun developing systems suitable for hospitals – such as technologies that work without human touch and those that can verify masks are worn in public spaces – and is reporting rapid growth.

TheMarker and NBC revealed last year that Anyvision provides quick facial recognition technologies at border crossings between the West Bank and Israel. At the time, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Eylon Etshtein, told TheMarker that his company is sensitive to racial and gender bias and only sells to democracies.

This activity, however, is not classified as security related, so will remain in Anyvision’s hands until after the deal is completed. 

Palestinians have their faces scanned at a West Bank border crossing
Palestinians have their faces scanned at a West Bank border crossingCredit: Emil Salman

In wake of the investigation into Anyvision's West Bank activities, Microsoft said this March it would sell its stake in the startup, and announced it would no longer would make minority investments in companies that sell the controversial technology.

In June, after the death of George Floyd, the company said: “We do not sell our facial recognition technology to U.S. police departments today, and until there is a strong national law grounded in human rights, we will not sell this technology to police.” The announcement by Microsoft came shortly after rival Amazon declared it was pausing police use of its “Rekognition” service for a year and IBM too said it no longer offers the software generally.

Google announced earlier last that it too it was withdrawing from the field, pulling out of bidding on a $10 billion contract to develop facial recognition technology for U.S. military drones.

Face-tech in the West Bank

Last year, TheMarker revealed that Anyvision is taking part in two special projects assisting the Israeli army in the West Bank. One involves a system that it has installed at army checkpoints that thousands of Palestinians pass through each day on their way to work from the West Bank. The product lets the army quickly identify whether the person passing through has an Israeli work permit, thereby shortening the wait at the border.

The army said in a statement in February: “As part of a wide-ranging program to upgrade the crossings in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] through the addition of technology, 27 biometric crossings have been established and new identification and inspection stations have been added. The inspection procedure at the crossings has become more efficient and significantly faster.”

Anyvision’s second project is much more confidential and includes facial recognition technology elsewhere in the West Bank, not just at border crossings. Cameras deep inside the West Bank try to spot and monitor potential Palestinian assailants.

At TheMarker’s Technovation conference in June 2018, Yaniv Cohen, Anyvision’s accountant, described how the facial recognition firm built its first prototype in 2014 and launched its initial product commercially three years later, working with government clients, security agencies and foreign corporations. In 2018, Anyvision raised $28 million (led by the German company Bosch) and increased revenues sixfold.

“The company operates in the field of picture processing, and its power is in its technology,” Cohen said. “Its people have developed new generations of the product at an extraordinary pace, which has let them attract customers and enter new markets, helping them quickly raise funds and race ahead.”

Anyvision’s president, Amir Kain, is the former head of Malmab, the Defense Ministry’s security department. One of Anyvision’s advisers is Tamir Pardo, the former head of the Mossad intelligence service.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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